COVID-19 No. 16: Hey, People Are Listening! Well, Okay, Most of Them …

IF MY TRIP TO THE GROCERY STORE this morning is any indication, we are taking the situation much more seriously than we did two weeks ago, when I last visited.

Then, I rolled up about 5 minutes before the store opened and still made the first wave of 15 people to be allowed in. Today, I got there about 20 minutes early and was 17th in line, requiring a 20-minute wait.

Then, shoppers mostly paid lip service to social distancing, standing uncomfortably close while waiting in line. Today, the gaps were at least twice the recommended 6 feet.

Then, about half of shoppers wore masks. Today, it was all of us, with the exception of the guy in front me in line, who at least had a scarf covering his face. Of course, lest you think that everyone in southeastern Pennsylvania has embraced science and the expertise of biomedical professionals, when I encountered Scarf Guy inside the store, his face was uncovered.

As happens often, if not always, this crisis has brought out our best and our worst. Healthcare workers are literally risking their lives daily, and so many people have stepped up with uncommon charity and generosity. Yet the brazen, depressing selfishness of others seems equally prevalent. From spring breakers and bar hoppers who didn’t want the party to stop, to megachurch shysters insisting their worshippers praise Jesus in person, to runners breaking into parks to log their miles with friends, a shockingly large number of people have been putting others at great risk of debilitating and possibly fatal illness.

That’s to say nothing of the continued incompetence, stupidity, and corruption of the federal government, whose botched handling of this from the earliest days has caused vast amounts of unnecessary suffering and needless deaths. I have to force myself every day not to dwell on this, because the rage simmering within me at this evil — and that’s what it is — would be all-consuming were it to come to a boil.

Anyway. The sample size I’m describing here is far too small to draw any large conclusions. But what I saw in line and in the store was encouraging, and these days we need all the encouragement we can get. | DL

COVID-19 No. 11: When ‘Shop ’til You Drop’ Has a Whole New Meaning

grocery cart with item
Photo by Oleg Magni on

BY THE TIME I PARKED MY CAR and walked to the entrance, about a dozen people had gathered, waiting for the store to open. It was early yesterday, just before 7. I don’t usually shop for groceries on Friday morning, but if I have to be out and about, I want to do it when I’ll encounter as few people as possible.

Another pivot in the coronavirus era.

Another dozen or so people gathered behind me. Many wore facemasks. There was little conversation.

I was fortunate to have arrived when I did. The guy who unlocked the door held it open and announced to us, politely but firmly, that only 15 people would be permitted in the store at any one time. I was number 11.

Never has a task so mundane created such anxiety in me.

Even with so few shoppers, I couldn’t help encountering people in aisles or near endcaps. We all tried to adhere to the 6-foot rule as much as we could, but full compliance simply was not possible. I found myself holding my breath often — which, when you’re trying to tamp down your nerves, is about the polar opposite of what you should be doing. I wore gloves, which made handling produce awkward. There was little talking, and I was taken aback to hear a shopper standing at the meat counter say rather loudly to the butcher, “What the fuck else am I gonna do?”


I filled my cart in about half an hour, a record for me when doing the weekly shop. Because of the 15-customer limit, I didn’t have to wait to pay up. I thanked the cashier for being there and told her I hoped people were treating her and her coworkers kindly.

Most were, she said, though there have been a few who, y’know.

Yeah. I know. We all know. Some of those types are the ones who blithely chose to ignore warnings of a clear and present danger, the ones in positions of leadership and power who could have — should have, goddammit — answered the call. They’ll never acknowledge it, but these people have blood on their hands.


I rolled my cart out the door. Eight or ten people stood quietly in line, appropriately distanced. I shared a smile with the person at the front of the line, a gentle-looking woman in her seventies, loaded my bags into the car, and drove home.

I never thought I’d long for a return to crowded stores and long checkout lines. I’ll be happy to stop pivoting so much. | DL